Chancroid is a sexually transmitted infection that causes painful open sores, or chancroids, to develop in the genital area. It can also often cause the lymph nodes in the groin to swell and become painful.
Chancroid is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria Haemophilus ducreyi. It is rare in North America and Europe.
Having chancroid also increases the risk of developing other STIs because the sores compromise the skin barrier and immune system.
People with chancroid should seek medical treatment as soon as they notice symptoms. Anyone diagnosed with chancroid, or who suspects they have it, should also inform recent sexual partners so they can get tested as soon as possible.
Antibiotics can treat chancroid in most cases.
What are the symptoms of chancroid?
Most people with chancroid begin to notice symptoms between 3 and 10 days after contracting the infection.
Some people do not have any visible symptoms of chancroid.
The most common symptoms of chancroid are painful, red-colored bumps in the genital region that become ulcerated, open sores.
The base of the ulcer can appear grey or yellow.
Chancroid sores are often very painful in men but less noticeable and painful in women.
Additional symptoms associated with chancroid include:
- urethritis, or inflammation of the urethra
- abnormal vaginal discharge
- pain and bleeding of the sore
- dysuria, a condition caused by urethral inflammation
To positively diagnose chancroid, a doctor must identify the presence of H. ducreyi in fluids taken from the ulcers.
However, a definite diagnosis is not always possible because some of the substances needed to identify the bacteria are not widely available in the United States. In any case, these tests are accurate less than 80 percent of the time.
To diagnose chancroid, a doctor will ask a person questions about their symptoms, sexual history, and travel history. Usually, a doctor will make a diagnosis of chancroid if a person’s symptoms match typical chancroid symptoms, and they test negative for other STIs.
The number one risk factor for contracting chancroid is through contact with the open sores of a person who has chancroid.
Additional risk factors for contracting chancroid include:
- unprotected sexual contact or intercourse
- multiple sexual partners
- sexual contact or intercourse with a sex worker
- substance abuse
- rough intercourse
- anal intercourse
- being sexually active
- living in some developing nations, such as parts of Africa and the Caribbean
How is it treated?
A doctor will typically prescribe antibiotics to clear the infection.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend one of the following rounds of antibiotic therapy for treating chancroid:
- azithromycin: 1 gram (g) orally once daily
- ceftriaxone: 250 mg intramuscular (IM) once daily
- ciprofloxacin: 500 mg orally twice daily for 3 days
- erythromycin base: 500 mg orally three times a day for 7 days
It is essential to take all the medications a doctor prescribes. Chronic or untreated chancroid infections are more difficult to treat because the bacteria can spread to other areas of the body.
A doctor will assess chancroid symptoms 3 to 7 days after prescribing antibiotic therapy. If symptoms remain, a doctor might:
- reassess their diagnosis
- ensure a person is taking their medications properly
- test for other STIs, including HIV
- explore whether the strain of H. ducreyi is resistant to the antibiotic prescribed
Recovery time from chancroid mostly depends on the severity of the infection and the size of the sores. Large ulcers from chancroids can take more than 2 weeks to heal fully.
The only sure way to prevent chancroid is to avoid all sexual activities and contact. However, total celibacy is not a realistic lifestyle choice for the majority of people.
Other ways to reduce the risk of developing chancroid include:
- limiting or reducing the number of sexual partners
- using protection during sexual contact or intercourse at all times
- regularly checking the genital region for signs of abnormal bumps, sores, or swollen lymph nodes
- talking with sexual partners about testing for STIs or their STI status before engaging in sexual contact
- asking sexual partners about any unusual sores or bumps in their genital region
- talking with a doctor about unexplained groin pain
- getting regular STI testing
- avoiding or limiting alcohol use and avoiding recreational drug use as these may impair judgment in making healthy choices
Simple antibiotics can treat chancroid in many cases.
Chancroid can develop into a more serious, difficult to treat infection if left untreated.
Talk with a doctor or medical professional as soon as possible after chancroid symptoms develop.